Mara Salvatrucha 13
Mara Salvatrucha (commonly abbreviated as MS, Mara, and MS-13) is a
criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles and has spread to Central A
merica, other parts of the United States, and Mexico.The majority of
the gang is ethnically composed of Central Americans an active in urban and
Members of MS distinguish themselves by tattoos covering the body and also often the
face as well as the use of an own sign language. They are notorious for their use of
violence and a subcultural moral code that predominantly consists of merciless revenge
and cruel retributions.
This excessive cruelty of the distinguished members of the "Maras" or "Mareros",
earned them a path to be recruited by the criminal organization of Sinaloa, Joaquin
Guzman, to be trained in handling weapons and counter the force from the Gulf Organization
(Los Zetas), a war that rages south of the United States Border.
The Mara Salvatrucha gang originated in Los Angeles, set up in the 1980s by
Salvadoran immigrants in the city's Pico-Union neighborhood who immigrated to the
United States after the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.There is some dispute
about the etymology of the name. The most common belief is that
Mara refers to the word for gang in Spanish slang; it is suggested that Salvatrucha refers
to the Salvadoran guerrillas, the source of much of the gang's early manpower.
Originally, the gang's main purpose was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other,
more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominantly composed of Mexicans and
Many Mara Salvatrucha gang members from the Los Angeles area have been deported after
being arrested. As a result of these deportations, members of MS have recruited more
members in their home countries. The Los Angeles Times contends that deportation policies
have contributed to the size and influence of the gang both in the United States and in
In recent years the gang has expanded into the Washington, D.C. area, in particular
the areas of Langley Park and Takoma Park near the Washington border have become centers
of MS gang activity.
On July 13, 2003, Brenda Paz, a 17-year-old female, former MS member turned informant
was found stabbed on the banks of the Shenandoah River in Virginia. Paz was killed for
informing the FBI about Mara Salvatrucha criminal activities. Two of her former friends
were later convicted of the murder.
In 2004, the FBI created the MS National Gang Task Force. In 2005, the FBI helped
create a National Gang Information Center and outlined a National Gang Strategy for
On December 23, 2004, one of the most widely publicized MS crimes in Central America
occurred in Chamelecón, Honduras when an intercity bus was intercepted and sprayed with
automatic gunfire, killing 28 civilian passengers, most of whom were women and children.
MS organized the massacre as a protest against the Honduran government for proposing a
restoration of the death penalty in Honduras. Six gunmen raked the bus with gunfire. As
passengers screamed and ducked, another gunman climbed aboard and methodically executed
passengers. In February 2007, Juan Carlos Miranda Bueso and Darwin Alexis Ramírez were
found guilty of several crimes including murder and attempted murder. Ebert Anibal Rivera
was held over the attack and was arrested after having fled to Texas.Juan Bautista Jimenez, accused of masterminding the massacre, was killed in prison. According to the authorities, fellow MS-13 inmates hanged him. There was insufficient evidence to convict Óscar Fernando Mendoza and Wilson Geovany Gómez.
An MS suspect bearing gang tattoos is handcuffed.On May 13, 2006, Ernesto "Smokey"
Miranda, an ex-high ranking soldier and one of the founders of Mara Salvatrucha, was
murdered at his home in El Salvador a few hours after declining to attend a party for
a gang member who had just been released from prison. He had begun studying law and
working to keep children out of gangs.
On June 4, 2008, in Toronto, Ontario, police executed 22 search warrants, made 17 arrests
and laid 63 charges following a five-month investigation.
On June 22, 2008, in San Francisco, California, a 21-year old MS gang member, Edwin Ramos,
shot and killed a father, Anthony Bologna, 48, and his two sons Michael, 20, and Matthew,
16, after their car briefly blocked Ramos from completing a left turn down a narrow street
as they were returning home from a family barbecue.
On November 26, 2008, Jonathan Retana was convicted of the murder of Miguel Angel Deras,
which the authorities linked to an MS initiation.
In 2008, the MS task force coordinated a series of arrests and crackdowns in the U.S. and
Central America that involved more than 6,000 police officers in five countries.
Seventy-three suspects were arrested in the U.S.; in all, more than 650 were taken
In February 2009, authorities in Colorado and California arrested 20 members of MS and
seized 10 pounds of methamphetamine, 2.3 kilograms (5 pounds) of cocaine, a small amount
of heroin, 12 firearms and $3,300 in cash.
In June 2009, Edwin Ortiz, Jose Gomez Amaya and Alexander Aguilar were MS gang members
from Long Island who had mistaken bystanders for rival gang members. As a result, two
innocent civilians were shot. Edgar Villalobos, a laborer was killed.
Illegal immigration and human smuggling
According to The Washington Times, MS "is thought to have established a major smuggling
center" in Mexico.There were reports by the Minuteman Project that MS members were
ordered to Arizona to target U.S. Border Patrol agents and Minuteman Project volunteers.
In 2005, Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez and the President of El Salvador raised
alarm by claiming that Muslim terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda was meeting with Mara
salvatrucha and other Central American gangs to help them infiltrate the United States.
FBI agents said that the U.S. intelligence community and governments of several Central
American countries found there is no basis to believe that MS is connected to Al-Qaeda or
other Islamic radicals, although Oscar did visit Central America to discuss the issue.
Robert Morales, a prosecutor for Guatemala, indicated to The Globe and Mail that some
Central American gang members seek refugee status in Canada. Superintendent of the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police integrated gang task force, John Robin, said in an interview that
"I think [gang members] have a feeling that police here won't treat them in the harsh
manner they get down there." Robin noted that Canadian authorities "want to avoid
ending up like the U.S., which is dealing with the problem of Central American gangsters
on a much bigger scale".
On the southern border of Mexico, the gang has unleashed violence against migrants.
There are various possible explanations for the name Mara Salvatrucha. Some sources
state the gang is named for La Mara, a street in San Salvador, and the Salvatrucha
guerrillas who fought in the Salvadoran Civil War. Additionally, the word mara means
gang in Caliche and is taken from marabunta, the name of a fierce type of ant.
"Salvatrucha" may be a combination of the words Salvadoran and trucha, a Caliche word
for being alert.
An MS gang sign and tattoos.Gang markings and hand signs
Many Mara Salvatrucha members cover themselves in tattoos. Common markings include
"MS", "Salvatrucha", the "Devil Horns", the name of their clique, and other symbols.
A December 2007 CNN internet news article stated that the gang was moving away from the
tattoos in an attempt to commit crimes without being noticed.
Members of Mara Salvatrucha, like members of most modern American gangs, utilize a
system of hand signs for purposes of identification and communication. One of the most
commonly displayed is the "devil's head" which forms an 'M' when displayed upside down.
This hand sign is similar to the same symbol commonly seen displayed by heavy metal
musicians and their fans. Founders of Mara Salvatrucha borrowed the hand sign after
attending concerts of heavy metal bands.